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T. B. Lawson
Mobile Albama
January 19, 1838

"I should never have suspected that I was in a community of slaveholders from the manner in which the blacks are treated..." T.B. Lawson, Mobile Alabama 19 Jan. 1838


Mobile

January 18, 1838

Brother Rufus:

I rec’d yours by Mr. Coffin on New Years with much pleasure. Rec’d Kate’s first letter upon the same day. They were God sends [sic]—indeed, I had begun to despair receiving. But as I have been over this ground once in Kate’s letter of the contents of which I presume you occasionally get an inkling, I put the stopper on and proceed to notice your letter by answering first your inquiry concerning Allen. He is here and is Note Clerk in the Bank of Mobile at a salary of $1800 which is but moderate in Mobile, the expenses of living are so enormous. I venture to assert that there is not a place in the whole works where a man may not live at less expense—Young men who are out of employment turn up their noses at a salary of $1000. They say they cannot possibly live upon $3 [a day]. Since I am upon the subject of expense, I’ll endeavor to give you some idea of the thing in detail.

First and most important because it gives a clue to much that is to follow, laborers receive from $3 to $4 per day and $.50 cents per house for small jobs. You must pay $18 and $20 for making a coat, or for one ready-made $42.00. This is for a five-article. You may get one for $30, but it will be quite ordinary. For pants, $10 best $18. Boots nothing less than $10 of decent quality. You will perceive by this that an entire suit will cost $90. Every little article that is retailed at a profit of 100 percent at least is put upon it and then dealers are obliged to do it for their Rents and Clerks demand it. My fellow boarder, a retail dry goods dealer told me that his store and personal expenses were for the last year $8,000 and he is a very sober and economical person without wife, children or mistress. The last commodity is a very common one here for both married and singles. Beef and poultry are .25 cents per pound, other meats, except pork [are in] proportion. Eggs are frequently $1 to $1.50 per dozen. Milk $1.00 per gallon. Coal $10 per hogshed (?) that contains short half of a ton. House rent corresponds for such accommodations as you have. The rent would be at least $1200—these prices are sufficient excuse for the landlord and landladies charging from $45 to $80 per month for board. Washing $1.50 per day. From these items, as unpoetical as they are, I assure you that I am deeply interested in them. You will perceive that I shall be under the necessity of …money to meet my necessary expenses… There is to me no inducement on the contrary. I have every inducement to earn all that I can possibly and to keep all that I can during the necessary deductions for Board, washing and room rent.

There is a serious evil in this place. There being no societies whose object is the mental on the moral improvement of the people—there are no public lectures or places of resort for reading or social intercourse. The consequence is that most of the population upon the slightest subluxation of business, during the day congregate in and about the Barrooms [sic] and there are plenty of them and at night. Young and old—grave and gay—pious and impious congregate at the Theatre. These two habits lead many to dissipation and as a consequence, in the sickly season to death. For the most intelligent of the old resident, declare that if a man will but be steady and regular in his habits, and avoid exposure to the heat of the sun, and the dews of the night, he need not fear bilious congestive or Yellow Fever. The one differs from the other only in being a more aggravate form of the same disease. I have never been in better health that at present. I have gained in flesh since my arrival about 14 lbs. I weigh 138, being one pound more than ever before. My sea voyage, although it reduced me somewhat, has been very beneficial.

The population of the city this winter is about 14000. There are about 9000 whites of the 5000 blacks there and about 4 to 500 [are] Free. The salves appear to me to be much the happiest portion of the population. Many of them are very good looking and are very genteelly dressed. I should never have suspected that I was in a community of slaveholders from the manner in which the blacks are treated. I have not yet seen a single instance of severity or even harshness. On the contrary they are spoken to kindly and are well fed and clad and they seem at last to perform their labor cheerfully. This has been my experience thus far.

I hope I may not have occasion to alter my opinion. I have seen enough to satisfy me entirely that there are few extreme cases and very rare ones too, have been palmed upon the credulous people of the north as common occurrences and general facts by the rash and bigoted of the abolitionists. ? have not stopped to add gross falsehood to the misrepresentation as I have witnessed.

The business of Mobile is at present, and has been for the year past in a horrible state, ie., common with many other parts of the country, the citizens of this place became afflicted with the real estate mania. [An] Orange grove, a piece of woody swamp, upon that quarter towards which the city is making advance was cut into lots and sold for the one and a half million--hundreds were ruined by this and other similar speculations—the fall on Cotton completed what the mania had left unfinished. Universal suspicion was the result. 400 notes were protested at one Bank in one day. There have been 70 protests in one day since I have been here. It is this unfortunate state of things that I have to contend with--a state not peculiar to this City but universal throughout the principal Cotton states. ‘Tis true that many will come out of the troubles wealthy, but at present their measures are withheld from them. Notwithstanding, all the depression, the people are extravagant in their parties. Their dress particularly and in their servants and equipages, there are more private carriages in Mobile than any place of its size in the country and more splendor of dress I mean the walking dress, among its females.

For some items of intelligence, I must refer you to Kate’s last. Give my respects to all who may inquire—particularly to Davenport, Perkins, Thompson, your Father and Mother and Osgood. Tell Osgood that I have made a contract for some mocking birds in the spring. I wrote to Kate to speak to you about the Herald for 4 months or more—please attend and you will be much obliged. Kiss Ellen for me 100 times and Frank as much as you a mind to. T.B.L.

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Submitter: Sherri Cawley Notes:

This is an early Southern letter from Mobile, Alabama, dated January 19, 1838 to Rufus Spalding in Newburyport, Massachusetts from artist and portrait painter, T.B.Lawson, Mobile Alabama.

On the first page, at the top of the letter the writer identifies himself and references his address as “T.B. Lawson—Portrait Painter—Southside of Dauphin Street—a few doors above Royal.”

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